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No global settlement for Vioxx suits
In next week's N.J. trial, Merck won't change data-based defense that lost in Texas.
September 9, 2005: 1:52 PM EDT
By Aaron Smith, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - There will be no global settlement for Vioxx lawsuits against Merck, which now total about 5,000, said Merck's senior vice president and general counsel Kenneth Frazier on Friday.

"We have not changed our strategy," said Frazier. "We're committing to defending these cases one at a time."

Frazier said defense lawyers will use the same data-based defense in next week's New Jersey trial that they used in Texas, where Merck (down $0.20 to $28.99, Research) was hit with a $253 million verdict in a wrongful death suit. However, Frazier said the defense team would embrace the "challenge" of explaining medical data to jurors "in ways they understand."

"We believe that the Texas case was the result of fundamentally flawed information being presented to the jury," said Frazier, who said that Merck will appeal the verdict. "Merck's actions and decisions were based on sound science and in the long run, that's what is critical to patients."

In Texas, Merck's defense lawyers presented data that they considered proof that Vioxx did not cause the fatal arrhythmia of Robert Ernst, husband of the plaintiff. But jurors were swayed 10-2 by plaintiff lawyer Mark Lanier, who focused on the alleged wrongdoings of Merck, who he accused of deliberately concealing information about the harmful side effects of Vioxx.

Merck defended its behavior by reiterating that it voluntarily withdrew the arthritis painkiller from the market on Sept. 30, 2004, based on a test that showed increased heart risks in patients taking the drug for more than 18 months.

"The actions of Merck and its people have been unjustly portrayed," said Frazier. "We acted responsibly every step of the way."

Noting that many of the company's "top scientists" and their families have taken Vioxx, Frazier said the Merck has made "no definitive plans" about getting Vioxx back on the market but was discussing that option with the FDA.

Merck faces more than 2,400 in lawsuits filed in superior court in Atlantic City in its home state of New Jersey. Jury selection begins in the first of these cases on Monday.

Frederick Humeston, a twice-wounded Vietnam veteran and postal worker from Idaho, blames Merck for the non-fatal heart attack he suffered in 2001 while taking Vioxx for pain in his knees from a work injury and shrapnel wounds.

Frazier said that Vioxx did not cause Humeston's heart attack, noting that he took Vioxx "intermittently for two months" and had pre-existing conditions for heart attack. But Humeston's lawyer Chris Seeger said in an interview on Thursday that his client was in excellent health prior to the heart attack, which he said was caused by a Vioxx-induced blood clot.

Merck also faces federal lawsuits filed through New Orleans federal courts. Judge Eldon Fallon is now handling those cases out of Houston, a temporary base of operations. Frazier said the permanent site for federal cases has yet to be determined.

For more on the Vioxx trials, click here.  Top of page

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